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Reporting from the Danger-zone
August 21, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

One of the few to speak the truth about the Middle East, God-like journalist Robert Fisk holds more international journalism awards than any other foreign correspondent. He has covered every major event in the region for the past thirty years. He rarely gives interviews to anyone, but agreed to talk to edgey/angry youth culture magazine, Vice, about his life in the danger-zone.
posted by domdom (48 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gosh. I didn't know that Sabra and Shatila were in Israel. I thought they were in Lebanon. I wonder what other new facts I might learn from this wonderful article.
posted by motty at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2007


Fisking, at Wikipedia.
posted by smackfu at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2007


Another article there looks just as interesting, the piece called "Genius Convention", about the FBI’s "Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate". Thanks for the link, I'd forgotten about Vice.
posted by creasy boy at 7:33 AM on August 21, 2007


The caption just omitted the word "by", motty.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:33 AM on August 21, 2007


Amazing man. Thanks, domdom.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:35 AM on August 21, 2007


I wonder what John Malkovich thinks of this.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 7:37 AM on August 21, 2007


No, weapons-grade pandemonium, no it didn't.

The caption reads One of the many piles of massacred corpses in Sabra and Shatila, Israel, 1982.

Where would you like to put the word 'by' in order to make the sentence both factual and grammatical?
posted by motty at 7:43 AM on August 21, 2007


Here is abu muqawama's take on Fisk.
posted by proj at 7:44 AM on August 21, 2007


I wonder what FOX NEWS thinks of Fisk. They prolly think he is Satan. Which is weird, coming from an organisation as outrightly evil as Fox. Fisk rules.
posted by domdom at 7:44 AM on August 21, 2007


"Godlike?" Plenty of journalists don't rate his output at all. There's a reason the term 'fisking' exists.

And Vice is about as angry and edgy as an ad-filled magazine stuck together by cokehead non-writers can be.

If it hadn't been for their 'do's and don'ts' (which are very funny) it would have folded long ago.
posted by Geezum Crowe at 7:45 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Consider this article a small teaser for his autobiography. It's huge but also tremendously rewarding.

Fisk is a courageous, principled and stubborn man. Half-assed corporate "journalists" should beg God nightly for an ounce of his moral clarity. His every word is an act of truth spoken to power. He knows exactly how fucked up Israel and the Arab states are, all the petty corruption, the ideological lies and the casual brutality. His moment by moment critiques of all the actors are spot on and damning. There is a chapter in the book where he gets his hands on the wreckage of a Hellfire missile fired by Israel in Lebanon which still has its serial number evident. It gets sent to his hotel in the US and he physically carries it to the offices of the American defense contractor to demand a response from them. What ensues is literally heart-wrenching. He relates these company men struggling to mediate between their emotional reaction, which is stark horror, and the company line, which is dissimulation and damage control.

Alas, when he pulls back into analytical mode, the cudgel seems always to fall on Israel. There's a touch of Lawrence in him, I think. All the stupid bravery and all the casual anti-Semitism. It's a shame, really. I walked away from his bio thinking that he reaches to blame Israel for the problems of the region because, for all his awareness that the problems of the Middle East are deep and intractable, he needs a bad guy. The admission that there really are no solutions is too horrible to contemplate. And at the core, he considers Israel to be a Western power and therefore to be fundamentally more culpable than an Arab state, which of course, lets the Arabs off the hook at a very fundamental level. Whether or not that's a helpful ethical frame is open to debate. In the end, I remain awed by his experience and his courage.
posted by felix betachat at 7:45 AM on August 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


What felix betachat said. I worship Robert Fisk.
posted by Wilder at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2007


After an entire career spent in the most dangerous regions in the world without being attacked, children try to kill him and pelt him with rocks to take out their hatred of George Bush on someone? Damn.

Those kids are gonna grow up & take out that hatred in all sortsa new ways.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:53 AM on August 21, 2007


The caption reads One of the many piles of massacred corpses in Sabra and Shatila, Israel, 1982.

Where would you like to put the word 'by' in order to make the sentence both factual and grammatical?

"One of the many piles of corpses in Sabra and Shatila, massacred by Israel, 1982."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:59 AM on August 21, 2007


He gives great answers to some unfortunately brain dead questions. I kept waiting for him to be asked what kind of tree he would be.
posted by hermitosis at 8:01 AM on August 21, 2007


Gosh. I didn't know that it was Israel who actually carried out the atrocity at Sabra and Shatila. I thought it was Lebanese Phalangist militia. Did Israel carry out the Hama Massacre too?
posted by motty at 8:09 AM on August 21, 2007


Motta, Fisk doesn't say the Israelis actually did the killing, he says "The Israelis watched the whole massacre and let it happen." However, it seems there's a lot of controversy about how much of a role they played, with some claiming they actively participated.

But, since you obviously have some kind of personal agenda here, let it all out.
posted by Liosliath at 8:18 AM on August 21, 2007


The caption reads One of the many piles of massacred corpses in Sabra and Shatila, Israel, 1982.

Where would you like to put the word 'by' in order to make the sentence both factual and grammatical?


If your claim is correct that the picture is describing a location that is mistakenly attributed to be in Israel then how can the picture be a picture of both the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps at the same time? The massacres are referred to together but the camps are two different places.

Editing error seems more likely than an impossible factual error.
posted by srboisvert at 8:18 AM on August 21, 2007


Aren't you embarrassed to give the man a tongue bath in public like this?
posted by LarryC at 8:20 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


...God-like journalist Robert Fisk...

*gag*

He's an ideological hack. Not to say he's not brave, or doesn't tell stories that shouldn't be told. Just that he's 100% incapable of saying anything that doesn't match his pre-existing narrative. That may qualify as "God-like" in your view of journalism, but not mine.

And the story of his reaction to getting beaten to within an inch of his life just because he looked "Western" tells you everything you need to know:
But Mr Fisk said he could understand the refugees' anger, as many had relatives who had been killed by the US bombing of Afghan city Kandahar last week.

"It doesn't excuse them for beating me up so badly but there was a real reason why they should hate Westerners so much.

"I don't want this to be seen as a Muslim mob attacking a Westerner for no reason. They had every reason to be angry - I've been an outspoken critic of the US actions myself. If I had been them, I would have attacked me."

One wonders what Fisk would say if he was attacked by a group of Isreali youths angered about a recent Palestinian suicide bombing. Would he "understand" their actions? Would he make excuses for their violence? (Hint: not in a million fucking years).
posted by pardonyou? at 8:22 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


proj writes "Here is abu muqawama's take on Fisk."

And his take on Fisk is interesting or illuminating, why, exactly?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:23 AM on August 21, 2007


Shabra + Shantila
Over the years dirt from Sabra and Shatila has clung just as tenaciously to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. As some -- but probably not many -- Americans may remember, the twin camps in southern Beirut were the scene of an infamous massacre carried out by Lebanese militiamen operating under Israel's direct control. The massacre was an exceptionally tragic denouement to Israel's 1982 invasion of its neighbor to the north, which Israel carried out with American approval partly in the hope of establishing a Lebanese government friendly to its interests.
Robert Fisk; Sabra + Shatila - The truth at last?
posted by adamvasco at 8:27 AM on August 21, 2007


i'm holding out for acknowledgement as a god-like blog commenter. i'm not sure what "god-like" adds to this context beyond uncritical, fawning adoration.
posted by bruce at 8:27 AM on August 21, 2007


And his take on Fisk is interesting or illuminating, why, exactly?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:23 AM on August 21 [+] [!]


Well, I was going to finish the post with "posted without comment" but I figured people would pick up on that. I didn't say it was interesting or illuminating (though I do find it interesting); I merely posted it in the spirit of providing more information/viewpoints on Fisk. Why is your viewpoint particularly interesting or illuminating?
posted by proj at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2007


Just that he's 100% incapable of saying anything that doesn't match his pre-existing narrative.

That's false, actually. I came to the autobiography with the same prejudices against Fisk and was really shocked to see that, in the midst of particular stories about particular actors, he gets right to the heart of things. His treatment of the Palestinians, for example, places the corruption and stupidity of their leadership on par with Israeli mistreatment in the course of constructing his narrative. He read the Iran/Iraq war as a colossal comedy of errors in which the egos of nasty people were fed at the expense of many, many innocent dead. Literally, pick up any page in the book and you'll see that his "narrative" is anything but pre-existing.

The problem, as I state above, is when he comes down to apportioning blame. I think he believes, deep down, that Westerners, because they are more powerful and more cultured, have a greater culpability and a greater responsibility as regards Middle Eastern affairs. That is spot on where the US or Britain or France are concerned. But it's dangerously misapplied when Israel is lumped in.

At heart, he's still an orientalist, so he infantilizes Arabs and Muslims even as he romanticizes them. That's a far cry from "hackery", at least as I understand the term.
posted by felix betachat at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


An orientalist? No he's not. He has lived in Beirut for three decades. He's a man of the people.

It's hard for right-wingers to accept that a guy can be so totally on point, that's why they try to defame him using foul means.

The truth hurts those who live by lies.
posted by domdom at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2007


I too am a big fan of Robert Fisk. You can catch his articles in the Independent each week. Here's one of my recent favourites.

It takes some guts to stand up and risk the inevitable brickbats from the establishment and allegations of Anti-Semitism when writing about the Middle East - especially when you've been doing it as long as he has.
posted by Myeral at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2007


Literally, pick up any page in the book and you'll see that his "narrative" is anything but pre-existing.

Thanks for that, felix betachat. I will keep an open mind. I admit that my position is based on the man-on-the-scene pieces of journalism I've read (and I've read many). I would like to be proven wrong, as I certainly admire the man's courage, and suspect he's in a unique position to show the world how truly fucked up the entire Mideast is, not just Israel or the U.S.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2007


He has lived in Beirut for three decades. He's a man of the people.

Woah. Paul Bowles lived in Tangier for over 50 years. Did that make him a "man of the people" too? Orientalist=white guy who romanticizes Arabs. Nothing there about length of tenure abroad.

Step back a bit domdom and realize that the world doesn't cleave neatly into right & left, on- or off-point, truth vs. lies. Courageous men can have flaws, and even the most insightful critic has his blind spots.
posted by felix betachat at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2007


pardonyou? - my advocacy is a little example-poor. When I get home tonight, I'll pick out a quote or two to illustrate my point. I found myself pissed at Fisk a lot, but it wasn't for the poverty of his reportage. It was because he seemed insistent on refusing to draw the disparate threads of his stories into a truly comprehensive critical analysis. But to his credit, he gives you all the facts, even the unpleasant ones, which is a lot more than can be said for much of what passes for journalism these days.
posted by felix betachat at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2007


God-like journalist Robert Fisk

While idols are meant to resemble gods, they are really just fabricated objects. This particular idol is worshiped because he tells many people what they want to hear. Were he to present a less biased view, his courage and his (for the most part, severely misplaced) principles would mean nothing to many if not most of the ass kissers in this thread and elsewhere.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:57 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


felix has a point -- in a business that, shamefully, is populated by correspondents whose sources are CNN, Google, and taxi dirvers, Fisk is a happy, professional exception. but his many skills as a reporter are not matched by analytical skills -- most of his analysis tends to get a bit cartoonish, and by assuming that Israel is always wrong -- as an extension of the awful West, as felix points out -- he often makes an ass of himself. fantastic reporter, very problematic commentator. he should report more because he has great instincts but he is not a very sophisticated political thinker.

and I'm afraid he'd be embarrassed by some of his more supine fanboys -- those who, for example, seriously define him as "God-like". he's more Godwin-like, if you pardon the pun.
posted by matteo at 9:01 AM on August 21, 2007


One wonders what Fisk would say if he was attacked by a group of Isreali youths angered about a recent Palestinian suicide bombing. Would he "understand" their actions? Would he make excuses for their violence? (Hint: not in a million fucking years).

Yeah, the American tradition of so-called 'balanced' journalism has got a great track record on these issues.

Personally, I prefer people with an agenda to get it out there. If it's crap, then other people will say so. All too often though, the claim of an ideological slant is nothing more to suppress the views of those who have a different take on the position to your own.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2007


(not that his more porcine defamers are better than his fanboys, of course, mind you)
posted by matteo at 9:03 AM on August 21, 2007


What felix said. A flawed man in a cadre of extremely flawed (and bought) men, with a keen eye for what's going on, who actually does research, you know, on the ground, but an instinctive bias against all things western.

There's a great article by him on how the israeli media is subtly corrupt and refuses to see the horrors of the occupation in blunt terms, that the language they use nuances and massages the soul of the country in performing a colonial task.......

.....about 2/3 of the way in, it then says, "If you think the israeli media are bad...." then look at arab media and lists the horrors (blood libels, massacre cover ups, political smearings) that are perpetuated every day, the regular governmental death threats on members of the media (including himself) , the direct, paid collution of media with powerful political interests, the overt govt censorship, closing of newspapers, political appointments etc. His reportage is essentially correct, however, the analysis is biased: the title of the piece is still something like "Israeli media, complicit in occupation".


If anyone can find it I'd be interested in seeing if my memory of it coincides with the actual article.
posted by lalochezia at 9:06 AM on August 21, 2007


proj writes "I didn't say it was interesting or illuminating (though I do find it interesting); I merely posted it in the spirit of providing more information/viewpoints on Fisk."

It doesn't actually contain more information, just a viewpoint, so I assumed that you were linking to it because he had some significant credentials that made his comments about Fisk especially insightful.

It's just a random view on Fisk that you'd decided to link to, then?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:16 AM on August 21, 2007


Abu Muqawama is not a random view per se -- he's an Ivy League-educated former US Special Forces soldier who served in Iraq and has pretty extensive contact with "insiders."
posted by proj at 9:25 AM on August 21, 2007


I suppose for the kids of today being reminded that once upon a time journalists had real principles induces a painful bout of dissonance. It reflects not only the ethical collapse of the current media institutions but also subtly hints at their own deep lack of understanding about the world. Fisk isn't perfect (surprise!) but he does set an important standard by which journalists can be judged.


"Godlike?" Plenty of journalists don't rate his output at all. There's a reason the term 'fisking' exists.


By the way, it's just important to note that the ad hominem play isn't going to work forever. As the truth gets out and the facts emerge -- in this way Iraq is a good thing because it's kind of tip of the ice berg -- more and more people are going to start poking about and asking pointed questions. You don't seriously think you can deploy such stupid ad hominem smear tactics against them all? Like so many other things (really, everything else foreign policy related), the right wing's evaluation of Fisk will eventually shown to be stupid and dishonest and the truth will come out.
posted by nixerman at 9:33 AM on August 21, 2007


he should report more because he has great instincts but he is not a very sophisticated political thinker.

matteo, I find myself wondering if this isn't a professionally advantageous conceit. Being known as the "pro-Arab" reporter has probably given Fisk a lot of access in the Muslim world. I mean, Osama bin Laden asked for him by name, for fucks sake. I'll bet that he's been afforded a lot of consideration that other journalists haven't gotten because he makes a great show of embarrassing Israel and America.

If that's the case, it puts his reaction to getting beaten up in Afghanistan in a very different light. It's obviously emotional and difficult for him to summon up the memory. And his knee-jerk exoneration of his attackers begins to look like a spastic grasp at the juju that has always kept him safe in the past.

It's fair to ask if the easy black and white moralizing that Fisk has pursued in his political analysis has, in some small way, helped to midwife the very same racial dichotomies that are making it difficult for western journalists to work in the muslim world today. Obviously "axis of evil" bullshit and the Muslim Brotherhood post-colonial response have done much more, but it begins to look like Fisk wasn't really swimming against the stream when it might have helped.
posted by felix betachat at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2007


Man, I was expecting that interviewer to ask Fisk which was more important, hard work or or stick-to-itiveness.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:50 AM on August 21, 2007


I bet "Highway To The Danger Zone" plays every time he gets out of bed.
posted by signalnine at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2007


I like Fisk, but I do think he is more than a little too enchanted by the sound of his own increasingly prophetic tones as they re-echo from the walls of whatever room he finds himself in lately.

I happened to catch an interview Amy Goodman did with him right after the Lancet study came out estimating ~650,000 'excess deaths' in Iraq since the invasion. She asked him about it in passing, and he brushed it aside with his own estimate of 20,000.

That seems like a pretty big blind spot to me.
posted by jamjam at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2007




“In your view, what is the biggest threat in the area today?
Pakistan.”

The man is well informed. I have yet to see/hear anyone mention (openly, in the mainstream) Pakistan as a serious threat. Even from conjecture. But ask anyone who is concerned with these matters, it’s Pakistan that worries them.

“So why is it so important to take such risks and to report from war zones?”
Lolwut?
So why not just phone it in? Why not eat three gallons of Hagen-daas a day?

Yeah, some wasteful questions there.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2007


MeTa
posted by felix betachat at 5:11 PM on August 21, 2007


I don't quite see the reason why folk say Fisk is anti-Israeli - admittedly, my sole exposure to him comes through that massive tome he wrote - Conquest of the Middle East or something such was the title, perhaps his other works are more biased. But there he seemed to spend as much time ripping into the various Arab governments as into Israel - even setting aside the whole section devoted to the Iraq-Iran War, which didn't mention Israel at all. What I walked away with was the impression that he was one of the few people who can look at the Middle East situation as something other than stark black and white: the fact that Israel is a monster does not make the PLO or Arafat, shine any brighter. Likewise his clear analysis of just horrid both sides of the Iran-Iraq war (suicide bombers versus willing users of chemical weaponry) was impressive. My two cents.
posted by Anduruna at 6:55 PM on August 21, 2007


The title of this post has made my brain play Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" (from the movie "Top Gun") on an infinite loop.

Thank you. That is all.
posted by amyms at 7:46 PM on August 21, 2007




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